New SETI Technique

Covington suggests (if that link doesn’t work, page down to Friday, January 30) that we look for alien intelligences by attempting to detect signatures of exotic experiments in physics. Given the problematic course of development of extraterrestrial civilizations, this is at least as good an idea as the more conventional approach. I hereby dub it the Covington Technique.
This reminds me of a proposal …

humorously described here, which has been floating around for some years now — build a particle accelerator girdling the Moon; due to the high vacuum, no tunneling would be required. Just set out some big magnets and you’re ready to go (note that this may be incompatible with a lunar base).
For comparison, Fermilab is 6.44 km in circumference and reaches 1.96 TeV when its clockwise beam of protons collides with its counterclockwise beam of antiprotons. Assuming that it could be scaled up linearly to the lunar circumference of nearly 11,000 km, then with efficiencies equal to those of the Large Hadron Collider (now under construction; 27 km in circumference, 14 TeV), collisional energies of 5.7 PeV would be attained.
(TeV = tera-electron-volts, ie 1012; PeV = peta-electron-volts, ie 1015; EeV = exa-electron-volts, ie 1018.)
Incredibly, natural sources in the galactic hub produce ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays (UHECRs) up to 103 EeV = 1021 eV = 1 ZeV (zetta-electron-volt). The implied circumference of an accelerator using early-21st-century technology and developing these energies is 1.9 billion km, giving it a radius of 2 AU. Larry Niven, call your office.
By way of relating this to something terrestrial, the March issue of Sky & Telescope explains (page 27) that UHECRs that “strike the atmosphere with energies upward of 1020 electron volts [have] as much energy in a single particle as in a pitched baseball.” At five orders of magnitude lower, the lunar particle accelerator looks like a pilot project.
Well, you gotta start somewhere. When we conquer the Solar System, I’m granting a 10-km-wide strip around the lunar equator to the U of C Physics Dept and giving them permission to hose the galaxy with a quark-gluon plasma. In fact, I’ll insist on it. ;)

8 thoughts on “New SETI Technique”

  1. I’m afraid the main reason nerds and scientists are so into the search for ETs is Star Trek TNG and subsequent shows, where nerdy techies travel around at warp-speed in shiny starships and have sex with stunningly beautiful female aliens in between photon-torpedo fights with extremely ugly male aliens.

    I mean, who whould really bother otherwise ?

  2. Fairly funny, but in all seriousness, there’s no more interesting question than “are we alone?” It would frame everything we know or hope to know about ourselves.

    I think the importance of the question is masked for many people because they’ve convinced themselves they already know the answer – why ask the real question of “is anybody out there” if we can pretend to talk to our imaginary friends?

    Sex with green-skinned interstellar hotties though, that’d be SWEET!

  3. Covington, my take is that I don’t know. Seems the only honest position. And justifies looking for the answer.

    But I’ll admit that, given the insame quantity of galaxies and stars like your own out there, I just cannot imagine that there isn’t, somewhere, at least, – and I don’t remember who said it – “a planet with flowers”.

    But the gorgeous female aliens are still a better incentive.

  4. I’m not sure that I want to meet space aliens, particularly if they are more advanced than we are. Let’s say they’ve been around for a few hundred million (or more) years longer than we have. How do we treat creatures relative to which we are a few hundred million years more evolved? This is not an original concern on my part (I first read it in a Dan Seligman column, and he himself probably picked it up somewhere else), but I think it’s worth keeping in mind.

  5. Communication isn’t really the point… it is beyond unlikely that we’re going to come up with anything that’s FTL under our current main theories of physics, the oddities of quantum-loop gravity aside.

    Like a lighthouse on a distant shore, the medium IS the message – just knowing for certain that life is ubiquitous, that intelligence is bubbling up all over the universe, changes the fundamental self-understanding of the human race. Witnessing large-scale physics projects, such as creating gamma-ray bursters for fun and profit, would certainly widen our perspective of what is possible. As would the awesome responsability of being alone.

    And if there’s some coherent signal, imagine what we could learn from a little evesdropping.

Comments are closed.